Technology’s diversity conundrum
Workplace diversity challenges again hit the front pages as a host of tech giants recently released diversity figures showing blacks and Hispanics were largely absent and women also underrepresented in Silicon Valley.
At Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, the overall U.S. workforce is 91 percent white and Asian. That figure is 89 percent at Yahoo and 88 percent at Twitter. White men dominate leadership positions. All five companies employ just three to four percent Hispanic workers and two percent black workers. Along gender lines, 60 to 70 percent are men.
What’s this have to do with retail?
Although still controversial since studies around it began in the 1960’s, the business case for a diverse workplace has been shown to yield numerous benefits, including better decision making and enhanced problem solving, as well as greater creativity and innovation. A different perspective within an organization, the argument goes, can challenge the status quo.
Having a workforce that mirrors the changing demographics of the global consumer market also logically improves a company’s ability to better understand their desires and preferences. In the past, having a men-only sounding board was often blamed for "pink it and shrink it" approaches to making products for women. Also, by 2040, the U.S. is expected to see a "minority majority," with 42 percent of the country black or Hispanic.
The tech companies that have so far released their diversity figures all renewed commitments to diversifying their ranks in part to stay in touch and in tune with their customers around the world.
"We build products to connect the world, and this means we need a team that understands and reflects many different communities, backgrounds and cultures," Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global head of diversity, said in a blog post.
Retailers already face challenges competing against the Googles of the world for young tech talent. They likewise appear to face the same challenges balancing their workforce as they build their IT teams to face an omni-channel future.
Unfortunately, the diversity challenge is not largely seen as overt discrimination, but is more systematic. Landing a tech job in Silicon Valley involves connections at universities and within technology companies that favor those with close ties to the existing workforce. Others see a bias toward hiring white and Asian males since they "fit the stereotypical image of a Silicon Valley engineer or entrepreneur," according to USA Today.
Technology companies have also stated that their primary diversity hurdle is that not enough woman and minorities are getting science and engineering degrees. The number of women pursuing degrees in computer science has declined dramatically since the 1980s.
- The Business Case for Workplace Diversity – Thomasnet
- Lack of diversity could undercut Silicon Valley – USA Today
- Silicon Valley barriers, not lack of skills, impede diversity – San Francisco Gate
- When It Comes to Diversity in Tech, Companies Find Safety in Numbers – Slate
- Facebook Mirrors Tech Industry’s Lack of Diversity – The New York Times (tiered sub.)
- Twitter’s Diversity Report Is More Of The Same – TechCrunch
- Early Signs of Tech Disillusionment? – RSR Research
What is unique about the hiring challenges facing retail’s IT teams? What solutions have you seen for improving diversity across industries over the years?